U.S. retail sales rose in November as people spent more money online to begin the holiday season and started to replace cars and rebuild homes in the northeast after superstorm Sandy, the government said Thursday in a report that suggests steady job creation is adding momentum to consumer spending in the fourth quarter.
The Commerce Department said retail sales rose 0.3 percent in November, rebounding from a 0.3 percent decline in October. The November gain was smaller than economists had expected.
But last month's performance was much stronger after excluding gasoline prices, which have fallen sharply in recent months. Excluding gasoline-station sales, which dropped 4 percent, retail sales increased a strong 0.8 percent. Another measure that excludes automobiles, gasoline, and building materials rose a solid 0.5 percent.
Gains in November were widespread, though much of the strength reflected a rebound from Sandy. Auto sales jumped 1.5 percent, as many people sought to replace damaged vehicles. Sales at home-improvement stores increased 1.6 percent.
There also was an indication that many people started shopping for the holidays. Electronic and appliance sales rose 2.5 percent, and furniture sales increased 1 percent. Online sales surged 3 percent, the biggest gain for the category in 13 months.
The retail-sales report is the government's first look at consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity. The U.S. economy grew at a solid 2.7 percent annual rate in the July-September quarter, but the gains mostly were because businesses accelerated restocking, which drove more factory production.